How a special program to resettle Vietnamese boat people revealed flaws in Canada’s immigration system

Good investigative reporting. How a good initiative appears to have been undermined and exploited.

Amusing, however, to see Alberta Premier and former federal immigration minister Jason Kenney’s office state that” he is fully focused on Alberta now” just after his weekend campaigning for the federal conservatives in the 905:

Vo Van Dung gave the television cameras a thumbs-up as he walked through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Along with more than 100 Vietnamese “boat people” who arrived in Canada between 2014 and 2017, he was landing in the country after seemingly living in the shadows of society for the previous 20 years.

Rather than live under Communist rule in Vietnam, many who fled their homeland after the Vietnam War sought refuge in neighbouring Thailand in the 1970s and ’80s.

But refuge came with a price. For decades, they were living “without status” or as “stateless” people. They could not work without the threat of being arrested or fined. They had no access to health care. Some relied on donations to make ends meet.

They had few to no options until Canada accepted them under a special program designed to resettle boat people who had been living under desperate circumstances.

A business card identifies Vo as director of Saigon Red Travel, which has its headquarters in Vietnam.(Submitted)

But CBC News has learned that Vo was apparently living a more privileged life prior to coming to Canada.

The 57-year-old had been running a tour guide business. Headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Saigon Red Travel Company Limited offered tours between Vietnam and Thailand. And Vo wasn’t shy about his business and travel ventures, posing for photos with employees that were posted to social media.

Records obtained by CBC show the business began operating in 2014, two years before Vo arrived in Canada.(CBC)

A CBC investigation into the program has found at least five people, including Vo, ended up in Canada even though they do not appear to be those the government wanted to help, raising questions about the checks and balances meant to protect the country’s immigration system.

“Canada is known for being an international example for humanitarian endeavours, for people who are displaced, for people who are in trouble somehow,” said Guiddy Mamann, a refugee lawyer in Toronto.

“If people took the place of a more deserving candidate, then that would trouble me a lot.”

Vo did not respond to CBC’s requests for comment. But when CBC News asked an acquaintance of his about his business and lifestyle, he said Vo goes back and forth between Vietnam, Thailand and greater Vancouver and “thinks he’s doing very well.”

Who are the stateless?

A humanitarian crisis ensued following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Close to one million people fled from Vietnam — many by boat. Their journeys were perilous. The United Nations estimates up to 250,000 boat people died at sea.

Many of the boat people who did make it landed in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand.

Canada alone took in more than 100,000 refugees after the war.

In 1996, Vietnam repatriated tens of thousands of boat people from abroad. Those who did not want to go back because of fear of persecution back home escaped from refugee camps, living stateless in places like Thailand.

In 2006, the Vietnamese Canadian Federation (VCF), along with a U.S.-based group called the Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE), appealed to the Canadian government to bring over a number of stranded people from Thailand.

Current Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was federal immigration minister at the time, met discreetly with Thai government officials to ensure they would be provided exit permits to leave the country.

A Canadian government official says Thai officials did not want to raise awareness about the program for fear that thousands of people would enter the country illegally and turn their country into an immigration hub.

“I actually went to Bangkok … and we had a lot of negotiations,” Kenney told a room full of recently arrived stranded people in Vancouver, according to a YouTube video of the 2014 session. “We promised to do this negotiation in a discreet way.”

According to a senior government official and another person consulted in developing the resettlement program, the conditions for the more than 100 people who were eventually let in were narrow and specific: those who were selected had to have remained in Thailand after leaving Vietnam between 1984 and 1991. This meant anyone who had been repatriated back to Vietnam or lived elsewhere would not qualify.

But Mamann, the Toronto immigration lawyer, said there were major shortcomings in program’s written policy, which was called a “Memorandum Of Understanding Relating To A Temporary Public Policy Concerning Certain Vietnamese Persons In Thailand.”

The MOU said that applicants had to have arrived from Vietnam between 1984 and 1991 and be residing in Thailand — but it never specifically said that they had to have lived continuously in Thailand the entire time.

“This is an obvious error…. The whole underpinning of this thing was we believe that you can’t go back to your country [and] that you’re stuck here. You’re like on an island in the middle of the ocean and we have to come and rescue you,” said Mamann. “The language was sloppy and not precise.”

The first wave of people arrived in Canada in 2014, with the last family arriving in 2017.

But towards the end of the program, the Vietnamese community in North America and overseas began criticizing some of those who were chosen for it.

‘Please help us’

Nguyen Tu, a former boat person who runs a cyber security company in Houston, began investigating the concerns in 2016 after receiving tips about the program from people stranded in Thailand.

He travelled to Vietnam and Thailand and heard allegations that a number of vulnerable people who believe they should have been accepted into the program had been overlooked.

“Several boat people from Thailand contacted me … [saying]: ‘Please help us, help us,’ ” said Nguyen.

The claims and the numbers of incidents prompted him to arrange meetings with officials from the Thailand Immigration Bureau, the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP in Thailand. He said he provided them with material he had uncovered.

Then in May 2019, Father Nguyen Thien, a U.S.-based priest, along with Dau Vu Bac, a former boat person living in the U.S., hosted a Facebook video live from Bangkok in a room of stateless Vietnamese making more allegations.

The video, viewed close 50,000 times, accused groups such as VOICE of selecting people such as Vo Van Dung, who had gone back to Vietnam, over them.

“It’s my understanding that some of those people didn’t deserve to go as boat people,” Dau said in Vietnamese. “So those people shouldn’t have gone, but were sponsored by VOICE anyway.”

CBC spoke to two people who had been living on the margins in Thailand and say they were left off the list.

Pham Ty said he arrived in Thailand in 1991 and lived at a number of refugee camps over a period of years. Almost 30 years later, he said he still lives in a town near the Thailand-Cambodian border.

He said he applied for the Canadian resettlement program but wasn’t selected and wasn’t given an explanation why.

“I believe in fairness. I believe that God and Buddha and the heavens will see everything. There’s no point in blaming other people,” he said when asked whether he was upset others got into Canada instead of him. “If I’m allowed [into Canada] I would be grateful.”

The other cases

Through sources, business records, social media accounts, emails and archival footage on Vietnamese television, CBC found at least five questionable candidates for the program.

One of those people is Truong Lan Anh, who according to her social media account, lives in Ottawa. She arrived in 2016 but business records for a travel company based in Vietnam, showed Truong Thi Lan Anh as the owner since 2012.

Facebook photos showed her taking photos at the business in 2013. An employee at the travel agency, according to a video obtained by CBC, confirmed Truong was her employer.

Truong did not respond to CBC’s requests for comment.

Another case involved Sabay Kieng. In 2014, he was welcomed to a gallery of media and supporters as he arrived in Toronto. Kieng said he had been struggling for years trying to support his family.

“I [wanted] to find a job. It’s not easy so I sell some fruit on the street [in Thailand] … to feed my son and my wife,” he told CBC in a telephone interview.

He’s said he’s working in automotive manufacturing in the Greater Toronto Area.

But CBC obtained records, photos and videos that showed he had been running a jewelry and crafts business in Cambodia called Craftworks Cambodia since at least 2008. He travelled at one point to Manilla to give a talk about his business experience at a conference.

Kieng confirmed to CBC that he had businesses in Cambodia but said he did not live there, only near the border.

But according to a former business associate, he lived in a house in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, before coming to Canada.

“I think compared to a lot of people in Cambodia, he was living quite well,” the business associate told CBC. “He went straight to Canada. I mean, he had to go immediately when he got the approval.”

CBC tried reaching Kieng on the phone again but he said he was “busy” before hanging up.

CBC made further attempts to get a comment about these inconsistencies but did not get a response.

‘A very ominous cloud’

Nguyen Dinh Thang, chief executive officer for Boat People S.O.S, an American non-profit organization that provides legal assistance for Vietnamese refugees abroad, had serious questions about the program as well after CBC showed him examples it had found, including the case involving Vo.

“They cannot even work legally in Thailand let alone [run] a business in Thailand or in other countries,” said Nguyen, who was in discussions with the Vietnamese Canadian Foundation during the negotiations on the agreement. “If they are truly stranded, they may not.”

While the MOU is vague and never specifically said that applicants had to be residing in Thailand the entire time, after reviewing CBC’s examples, Nguyen does not think these are the types of people the Canadian government intended on helping based on the intent of the policy.

“None of those cases would be eligible, under this temporary special program,” he said.

The process of selecting people went like this: the VCF was responsible for identifying potential candidates, but looked to VOICE to help stranded people in Thailand complete and submit applications to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada).

Once the list of potential applicants was passed on to Canadian immigration officials, the federal government would be responsible for interviewing people and to ultimately ensure their eligibility for entry into Canada.

Nguyen, who provides legal assistance for Vietnamese refugees in Thailand, said he is “perplexed by the lack of internal control” by the Canadian government because if there is any suspicious activity, that would “clearly cast a very ominous cloud” on all refugee programs.

“It is the responsibility of immigration to screen and serve as the first line of defence to protect the integrity of the country’s immigration program,” said Nguyen.

The VCF said it was not aware of any questionable candidates coming into Canada and that the final decision to let anyone into Canada rested with Canadian immigration.

A senior government official involved in helping create the program told CBC the government would not have agreed to this program if it was aware of people coming from Vietnam to Thailand after repatriation or elsewhere.

He said that it would “undermine the claim they had no alternative option available to them.”

‘It’s unfair’

CBC showed VOICE co-founder Trinh Hoi examples of people who critics say did not deserve to come, including Vo.

“Just because someone got resettled here doesn’t mean that the person cannot go back to Vietnam and visit his homeland,” said Trinh.

“You cannot use one story of someone who has been able to do well or relatively well … to illustrate and say that the refugees were not stateless and were not desperate — it’s unfair,” he said.

“When one person took advantage, and I’m not even saying [Vo] took advantage of the system, if he’s eligible under the law … he should be considered if he meets [the] criteria,” he said.

Trinh said the names submitted to the Canadian government were “eligible to the best of my knowledge” and that his job was to “refer those cases for consideration” with the federal government.

He denied he or his group did anything untoward, refuting the assertions in the video.

‘We take those concerns very seriously’

A government source confirmed to CBC that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is investigating potential violations under the Immigration, Refugee Protection Act but would not indicate who, if any, specific individuals are being investigated.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Minister Ahmed Hussen would not comment on any of these allegations but did say that confidence in Canada’s immigration system is of utmost importance.

“I think it’s important for us to continue to maintain the integrity of our system. We take any allegation of fraud or anything that threatens the integrity of our refugee system very very seriously,” said Hussen.

Hussen said he couldn’t comment on the considerations that were made at the time the program was established because it was set up by the previous government.

Kenney’s office declined to comment on the matter and told CBC “it’s been a long time since he was immigration minister and he is fully focused on Alberta now.”

Source: How a special program to resettle Vietnamese boat people revealed flaws in Canada’s immigration system

Annual Report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act: Building a diverse and inclusive society

The 2014-15 report was released discretely (no press release, no announcement), given that it covers the period of the previous government. The only changes that could be made were largely cosmetic in nature.

The sub-title changes to Building a diverse and inclusive society, and Minister Joly picks up on the now standard language:

In Canada, we are recognized worldwide for our successful approach to multiculturalism, which focuses on building a diverse and inclusive society by promoting and encouraging awareness, understanding and respect for the many different cultures that contribute to the economic and social wealth of our country. While the Government of Canada sets the stage through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, it is thanks to the full participation of our provincial and territorial partners, stakeholders and the Canadian public that we are able to find unity in our diversity and to learn from one another.

…As Canadians, we know that our country is made stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it. By working together, we are advancing respect and appreciation for multiculturalism across the country while fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging in all Canadians.

In contrast, the previous report, consigned to Former Minister Kenney, reflects a different tone:

Our government is committed to promoting integration, intercultural understanding, peaceful pluralism as well as religious freedom—in Canada and abroad. I have been pleased to meet with many community organizations and international partners over the past year to advance our values and goals.

…By working together, we are making strides in celebrating our multicultural heritage, strengthening the value of citizenship and ensuring the successful integration of newcomers to Canada.

One of the disconnects or ironies is of course that the period under question, and thus the report, reflects the language, approach and activities for that period, with only really the Minister’s message reflecting the change. I was in a similar position when Minister Kenney had to sign-off on a report that largely reflected the priorities and language of the previous government.

No where is this more apparent than in the report’s vaunting of the changes to citizenship, both legislative and administration, many of which are being undone by the current government.

The other striking aspect is what appears to be under-spending in multiculturalism grants and contributions, $3.9 million, compared to the $8.5 million indicated in the DPR. This may reflect ongoing financial commitments in multi-year projects (which next year’s DPR will indicate).

Annual Report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act: Building a diverse and inclusive society


Michael Den Tandt: You want a ‘sunnier’ conservatism, Jason Kenney? What a comedian

Some uncomfortable truths here, particularly given the drubbing the Conservatives received in those suburban ridings where new Canadians and visible minorities form a majority or close to a majority of voters (see Visible minorities elected to Parliament close to parity, a remarkable achievement):

Jason Kenney is a wizard in a scrum. Intellectually nimble, rhetorically agile, reflexively partisan, the Conservatives’ former “Mr. Fix-it” is everything one could ask for in a future party leader, yes? Of course yes. Kenney is also, it turns out, a comedian.

“We need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than we have sometimes conveyed,” he was quoted by The Canadian Press as saying, following his party’s historic drubbing at the hands of Justin Trudeau, a man Kenney himself has incessantly belittled and mocked, for years.

Apparently defeat has refocused the former immigration and multiculturalism minister’s mind on the better angels of his nature. Kenney, long believed to be angling for the Tory leadership in a post-Harper era, has had his conversion on the road to Damascus. He wishes to purge his party of its grim, Harperesque baggage. Perhaps he will be the wire brush, to borrow the Liberal expression from the post-Sponsorship-scandal era, to scrape the Conservative party clean. Perhaps he will tell jokes and smile and speak of building a greater Canada. Perhaps he, too, will hold a news conference in the National Press Theatre, during which he gently reminds shell-shocked journalists they have a role to play in democracy, and are not despised.

Optimism, it has been miraculously revealed, works, and Jason Kenney will be its new blue paragon.

Seriously, now. If there is a single minister other than Stephen Harper who must wear the Conservative loss, it is Kenney. That’s due to his abilities and strengths, ironically enough, as much as his omissions and flaws.

It was Kenney who famously delivered Ontario’s 905 seats, where many hundreds of thousands of new Canadians reside, in the 2011 federal election. It was he, lovingly dubbed the Minister of Curry-In-a-Hurry, who managed to pull off the apparent miracle of streamlining and toughening Canada’s immigration and refugee system, while increasing support among the various communities most affected.

It was Kenney also who spoke up most loudly and clearly, among federal ministers, in the fall of 2013 when former Parti Québécois premier Pauline Marois hauled out her xenophobic charter of values, which later cost her the premiership. “If you want people to become a part of your society and fully participate in it, then you have to create a space (and) send a message that people are welcoming (and) including,” Kenney was quoted by CTV as saying at the time.

But two years later, in the heat of a campaign, there was Kenney front and centre in the bid to transform fear of niqab into votes. It was on Oct. 2, in fact, the day his colleagues Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch unveiled their proposed “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, that Kenney said this to radio host Evan Solomon: “I believe it (the niqab) reflects a misogynistic culture that — a treatment of women as property rather than people, which is anchored in medieval tribal customs …”

Four days later, prime minister Stephen Harper doubled down, saying in an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton that he’d consider banning the veil across the civil service. There were no women wearing niqabs in the civil service, it later emerged, but never mind. This was the Conservative leader saying the wrangling would go on, and on. That very week, Conservative support began to slump, polls showed. It never recovered.

Away from spotlight of national Conservative campaign, Jason Kenney runs another

Interesting list of commitments (not in the party platform), reinforcing the link between domestic (diaspora) politics and foreign policy:

He’s [Kenney] been going non-stop since the campaign began, he said, because despite all the inroads the Conservatives have made, demographics and shifting immigration patterns provide new opportunities for outreach.

“We’re not going to retain every vote we have in the last election but I think we’re doing very well,” he said.

He’s doing more, however, than just showing up.

Kenney has made several campaign promises in recent weeks that appear nowhere in the official Conservative campaign platform.

To the Sri Lankans, Kenney promised a promise to expand Canada’s high commission to the city of Jaffna, a provincial capital in that country whose population is mostly Tamil. The Tamil diaspora in Canada is among the largest in the world.

To Iranians, Kenney promised to make it easier for them to access consular services from Ottawa, as opposed to having to travel to Washington, D.C. Canada expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa in 2012, leaving the Iranian diaspora without access to services like passports or other government documents.

To the Armenian community, a pledge to opening trade and consular office in Yerevan, the country’s capital.

Armenian Canadians should “return the favour to the Conservative party and its candidates by voting and helping party candidates,” the head of the Armenian Canadian Conservative Association reportedly said, according to a post about the announcement on the HyeForum, an Armenian community website.

While not speaking specifically about those promises, Kenney said the Conservatives have their eye on getting diaspora communities more involved in foreign policy.

“Think tanks, foreign policy commentators say that Canada’s diversity is in principle a great strength for foreign and economic ties around the world and we have never really done that in a systematic way,” he said.

“So we’ve been trying to develop ways to more formally engage the large diaspora communities who are new Canadians to deepen ties with countries of origin.”

The Conservatives have come under considerable fire, however, for how closely they appear to link foreign policy to diaspora politics.

Since 2006, under the Conservatives, 1.6 million people became Canadian citizens, Kenney pointed out.

“There are new communities that have developed in large part since our government came to office and so that’s an advantage we did not have in the past.”

Those Canadians are looking for change just like everyone else, said Liberal John McCallum, and they are not responding well to what he calls the Conservatives’ divisive — and often entirely misleading — approach.

A recent set of ads appearing in the Chinese and Punjabi press asked readers whether Trudeau’s values — described as being about putting brothels in communities, allowing marijuana to be sold in corner stores and allowing drug injection sites in local neighbourhoods — none of those things are in the Liberal platform, McCallum said.

“It’s wrong, on principle, and it’s a sign of desperation.”

Source: Away from spotlight of national Conservative campaign, Jason Kenney runs another | National Newswatch

Conservatives crank up values clash by taking aim at ‘barbaric cultural practices’

Interesting that just two short years ago, Minister Kenney was accusing the Parti québécois of wedge and identity politics, and demonstrating  strong and principled opposition to the proposed Charter of Values:

“When Quebecers begin to actually contemplate the idea that provincial bureaucrats might be getting out a tape-measure to measure the size of people’s crosses, to see whether or not their earring is too obviously religious — this gets to a point of almost Monty Python-esque absurdity,” he said.
“And I don’t think the majority of Quebecers support will support that kind of overbearing application of power.”
Kenney noted that just a few decades ago, most of Quebec’s schools and hospitals were largely run by nuns “wearing headscarves and crosses.
“That’s the tradition of Quebec itself and I think it’s something that should be respected,” he said.
Earlier this week, Kenney said he will ask the Department of Justice to review the values charter if it becomes law in Quebec, to see if it violates the constitutional protection around freedom of religion in Canada.
Asked why Ottawa is wading into Quebec politics, Kenney said the federal government is prepared to mount a legal challenge against the plan because it’s a “clear effort to violate what are undeniably fundamental and universal rights, like freedom of religion.”
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has said she is “very proud of the charter,” and is looking forward to a debate on it.
“I think we need to set clear guidelines for how we live together,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
But Kenney said such guidelines are counterproductive to creating a harmonious Canada.
“At the end of the day, integration outcomes depend on immigration inputs and if you want people to become a part of your society and fully participate in it, then you have to create a space (and) send a message that people are welcoming (and) including.”

Jason Kenney calls Quebec’s values charter ‘Monty Pythonesque

But he did support the requirement for citizens to show their faces when receiving government services:

He said that there “is an expectation that newcomers should make an effort to integrate successfully into Canadian society,” while adding that governments have “to be welcoming and to create equality of opportunity.” Mr. Kenney added that it is reasonable, as proposed in the charter, to call on all citizens to “show their faces” during interactions with the government.

Conservatives vow to challenge Quebec charter, should it pass

Today, the tone is different, and the Conservatives, as so many observers have noted, are aggressively playing the identity cart and the politics of fear. The latest summary of the culture wars and wedge politics of the Conservatives:

If it wasn’t clear already, the culture war is definitely on now  and the pollsters say it’s working,

With the polls moving the Conservatives’ way and sensing that a majority could yet be in sight, the Tory campaign is pressing hard on the hot button of identity politics, promising a new RCMP “tip line” to enable Canadians to report “barbaric cultural practices” such as sexual slavery or so-called honour killings.

On CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Liberal pundit Amanda Alvaro fumed that this was a “barbaric political practice” by the Conservatives.

A good line, but, hey, could two more weeks of cultural combat put the Conservatives over the top? Somebody seems to think so.

Even as two of his colleagues were promising the new tip line, Calgary Conservative Jason Kenney launched a fresh attack on the wearing of a niqab, or face veil, which he called “medieval” and “tribal.”

While he was at it, Kenney blasted the Liberals and the NDP — again — for opposing the revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists.

Do we need a tip line?

Of course, Canadians can already call police to report any crime, at any time. It’s hard to see how calling a different number will make much difference. Besides that, the urgent need for a special tip line does not seem to have gripped the Conservatives during their 10 years in office — only now, in the final days of an election campaign.

One thing the tip line does, though, is enable them to keep talking about an issue that seems to be firing up the troops.

The Conservatives’ emphasis on the defence of what they call “Canadian values” is credited by pollsters with a significant uptick in their support, particularly in Quebec.

And it’s not a risky strategy: a poll done by the Privy Council Office in March of this year, paid for by taxpayers, found 82 per cent of Canadians in support of the Conservatives’ bid to ban the wearing of a niqab at citizenship ceremonies. In Quebec, that number was even higher — 93 per cent.

“We need to stand up for our values,” said Conservative candidate Chris Alexander, who is in a tight race for re-election in the Ontario riding of Ajax.

“We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices.”

Joining him was Kellie Leitch, the Conservative candidate in Simcoe-Grey, who said the tip line would mean that “citizens and victims can call with information about incidents of barbaric cultural practices here in Canada.”

She did not say what, if anything, prevents Canadians from doing that now.

However, she did say there would also be a new RCMP task force to enforce the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which received royal assent in June. In addition, she promised a $12-million fund, over four years, to assist overseas aid groups to stop forced marriages of girls and young women in conflict zones.

“The Conservative government is not afraid to defend Canadian values and to be clear that these practices have no place in Canadian society,” said Leitch.

Kenney takes on the ‘medieval’ niqab

Kenney, simultaneously, was in Halifax to tout the Conservatives’ naval shipbuilding project. When asked about the niqab, though, he seized the chance — and denied that he was in any way demonizing Muslims.

“I think it’s completely wrong-headed to associate the niqab with Islam,” Kenney said.

“The niqab reflects a medieval tribal custom that reflects a misogynistic view of women.”

Kenney is correct that the vast majority of Muslim women, in Canada and worldwide, do not wear a veil and do not see it as a religious requirement. On the other hand, it just happens that those who wear it tend to be Muslims.

A new passport?

But, details, details. They don’t seem likely to interfere with the Conservative strategy. Kenney pressed on, repeating his attacks on those who differ with the cancellation of citizenship for Canadian convicted terrorists.

Kenney referred to the case of Farah Mohamed Shirdon, from Calgary, who was videotaped burning his Canadian passport while fighting with ISIS in June 2014.

“Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair,” said Kenney, “think that if that fellow shows up at one of our embassies, we should issue him a new passport and welcome him back to Canada.”

Both the Liberal and NDP leaders have said terrorists who are Canadian citizens should be in jail. But Tom Mulcair, well aware of the erosion of his poll numbers in Quebec, seemed to want to change the subject when he appeared for a pre-debate interview on City-TV in Montreal.

Mulcair said he would counter the Conservative tactics “by making sure that we don’t let Stephen Harper hide behind the niqab.”

When the host asked, “Well, let’s talk about the niqab,” Mulcair responded, “Well, let’s talk about his balance sheet — about what he’s done to Canada.”

But the Conservatives do want to talk about the niqab. And passports. And barbaric cultural practices. And, if a majority is possible, they’re not going to stop.

Read more of this post

Nenshi and ‘people like him’ are the ones politicizing niqab issue, Jason Kenney says (with a straight face)

The back and forth between Calgary Mayor Nenshi and senior Minister Jason Kenney on the politicization of the niqab, starting with Nenshi (who I think has it nailed):

Stephen Harper is playing a “dangerous” political game with his position on the niqab and “dog whistle politics” when he speaks about the Syrian refugee crisis, said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

In an interview on SiriusXM’s Everything is Political, Nenshi told Evan Solomon that Harper’s decision to challenge the Federal Court of Appeal decision over the ability of a woman to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies is being done merely in the service of scoring political points.

“This is unbelievably dangerous stuff,” Nenshi said. “I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech with all of these people from small town Alberta, I stood up and said this is disgusting and it is time for us to say stop it—to say this is enough,” Nenshi said.

He called out the Conservatives’ request for stay on the Federal Court of Appeal decision on the niqab. “They are spending millions of millions of dollars of yours and my money on what is an unwinable appeal in order to appeal to a certain political segment because they think the polls say that most people don’t want this,”  Nenshi said.

Nenshi was complimentary on the stances both Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have taken on the issue.

Source: Nenshi’s harsh words for Harper –

Hard to imagine him saying this with a straight face as he knows better (no matter how seriously he believes in the substance of the Government’s position):

But Kenney, the Conservative cabinet minister from Calgary who introduced the niqab ban, denied the Tories are seeking to gain political advantage from the issue.

“If anything’s dangerous, it would be legitimizing a medieval tribal custom that treats women as property rather than people,” Kenney, currently running for re-election in Calgary Midnapore, said in an interview Thursday.

“It seems to me that it’s the mayor and people like him who are politicizing it. I don’t think this should be an issue of contention.”

The Conservatives point to surveys showing public support for banning the niqab in citizenship ceremonies and they have jumped in the polls since the issue became prominent during the campaign, which will see voters cast their ballots on Oct. 19.

Kenney, who is currently defence minister, said Nenshi’s comments would have no impact on the campaign, either nationally or in Calgary.

And he said it would have no affect on his working relationship with Calgary’s mayor moving forward.

“We’re all used to Naheed’s running social commentary on everything. That’s nothing new,” said Kenney.

Source: Nenshi and ‘people like him’ are the ones politicizing niqab issue, Jason Kenney says

Documents reveal government’s scramble to enact niqab requirements: Risks clearly flagged

Sounds all too familiar from my time in government and working on citizenship and multiculturalism files as detailed in my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism. The official cited was part of my team and I think he read the situation clearly: once the Department had provided appropriate legal and policy advice, and the Ministerial direction was clear, further signal checks would simply aggravate relations without changing the views of the Minister.

The question remains is whether these concerns remained at the Director/Director General level (unlikely) and the degree to which the risks were raised during regular Ministerial briefings or by the Deputy Minister (and whether the opportunity to flag again the legal risk was acted upon):

The documents show that Mr. Kenney’s office asked departmental officials in the late summer of 2011 for “advice on … rules requiring that when people take the oath, their face must be uncovered.”

Senior staff in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration sent a memo to Mr. Kenney headed, all in capital letters, “OPTIONS TO ACCOMMODATE PERSONS WITH RELIGIOUS/CULTURAL GARMENTS WHILE TAKING OATH.” The federal government, in disputes over religious freedom, normally opts for accommodating minorities, they said.

“While there has (sic) been mixed approaches to dealing with religious accommodation in Canada and … abroad, in general, the federal-level response to recent high-profile incidents has been to accommodate religious beliefs when no security reasons exist (see Annex B),” officials told the minister.

Before changes are made, it said, the department needs to consider “the impact on the clients’ rights and beliefs, operational factors and how the requirements of the Citizenship Act and Regulations can be met.” The Citizenship Act contains regulations that individual religious beliefs are to be accorded “the greatest possible freedom.” The act also says changes involving the oath or the duties of a citizenship judge need to be approved by cabinet.

Within weeks, the tone changed. Mr. Kenney had gotten his message across: Niqab-wearers would need to unveil publicly. Mondher BenHassine, the director of policy and knowledge development in the department’s citizenship and multiculturalism branch, told other officials in a memo on Nov. 8 that there was no need to go back to Mr. Kenney for a “signal check.”

“In looking over the hand written comments from the Minister, it is pretty clear that he would like changes to the procedure to ‘require’ citizenship candidates to show their face and that these changes be made as soon as possible. Therefore, I don’t think it would serve us well to go back up for a signal check, it would likely only be seen as foot dragging by bureaucrats. My interpretation is that the Minister would like this done, regardless of whether there is a legislative base and that he will use his prerogative to make policy change.”

Mr. BenHassine went on to ask whether officials would be able to repeat an earlier warning to the minister’s office, dubbed MINO. “Is there the opportunity to flag the legal risk to MINO (it would be good to re-iterate, but not sure if this will make a difference).”

The documents do not make clear what the answer was. Several pages have been redacted from the court record, on the grounds of solicitor-client privilege.

But the documents spell out repeatedly that the policy is “mandatory” or “required.” The word is used in briefing notes to the minister for Question Period, and for officials taking media calls. And the policy itself says that citizenship “candidates are required to remove their face coverings for the oath taking portion of the ceremony.” Mr. Kenney called the wearing of a face-veil while taking the oath “ridiculous” in a CBC interview.

Source: Documents reveal government’s scramble to enact niqab requirements – The Globe and Mail

Court backs Conservatives’ funding cut to ‘anti-Semitic’ Arab group

Finally picked up by the English language press:

An appeal court has upheld the Conservative government’s decision to cut funding to a “radical and anti-Semitic” Arab-Canadian group once headed by a Liberal candidate.

In 2009, then-Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney cut $1 million in annual funding to the Canadian Arab Federation, arguing that the group’s leadership had repeatedly expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah. The Federation had a long track record of “expressing hateful, antisemitic views, and glorifying terrorists,” said Kenney in a Wednesday email to the National Post.

The group has subsequently failed in two lawsuits to have the funding reinstated. The Federal Court upheld Kenney’s decision in 2014, followed more recently by the Federal Court of Appeal.

“I have been on public record disagreeing with the approach taken by the current administration of the Canadian Arab Federation,” said Omar Alghabra, Liberal candidate for Mississauga Centre and a president of the group between 2004 and 2005.

He added, “at the end of the day, it’s government’s prerogative to make decisions on what to fund and what not to fund.”

The Canadian Arab Federation had been paid an annual sum of $1 million in exchange for providing language-training services to new immigrants.

In severing ties with the group, Kenney’s office had cited several specific incidents, including a CAF executive attending a Cairo conference where Hamas and Hezbollah delegates were present, and a CAF-organized rally in which the Hezbollah flag was flown. Last year, a decision by Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn wrote that, based on the Ministry’s evidence, “CAF appears to support organizations that Canada has declared to be terrorist organizations and which are arguably anti-Semitic.”

Source: Court backs Conservatives’ funding cut to ‘anti-Semitic’ Arab group 

Les conservateurs courtisent les communautés culturelles à Montréal | Le Devoir

Minister Kenney in action, trying to replicate his success in the GTA. Most of the polls I have seen show little traction (apart from the two ridings with large Jewish communities):

Après avoir fait main basse sur de nombreux sièges de la région du Grand Toronto grâce à l’appui des communautés culturelles au cours de la dernière décennie, les conservateurs tentent aujourd’hui d’appliquer cette stratégie gagnante à Montréal et à sa périphérie. Une tactique prometteuse pour cette formation traditionnellement impopulaire dans la métropole.

Le ministre de la Défense et du Multiculturalisme, Jason Kenney, est partout. Il était dans Ahuntsic il y a trois semaines pour accorder la citoyenneté canadienne à un populaire évêque de la communauté grecque-catholique libanaise. Le revoici à Montréal, lundi, cette fois dans la très multiculturelle circonscription d’Outremont, pour présenter le candidat conservateur Rodolphe Husny, un Canadien d’origine syrienne. Entre deux voyages éclairs à Montréal, on a pu le voir serrer des mains dans un temple hindou de Calgary, participer à des fêtes religieuses dans la région de Vancouver ou encore faire quelques passages remarqués dans les banlieues de la Ville Reine. Course folle pour séduire l’électorat ? En réalité, tout cela n’a rien d’inhabituel pour l’omniprésent ministre, en perpétuel démarchage auprès des différentes communautés immigrantes du pays, dont les Canadiens d’origines chinoise, indienne ou pakistanaise et de l’Asie du Sud-Est.

Devant les journalistes, convoqués au coeur de la circonscription de Thomas Mulcair, lundi, il s’est dit convaincu de l’impact des nouveaux Canadiens sur la bonne fortune du Parti conservateur. Il en sait quelque chose : aux dernières élections, pas moins de 42 % des néo-Canadiens (des électeurs non nés au pays) auraient donné leur appui au Parti conservateur, selon des données internes. Traditionnellement acquis aux libéraux, ce qu’on a longtemps appelé le « vote ethnique » change peu à peu de couleur politique, affirme avec raison le ministre Kenney.

« On est aujourd’hui le seul parti de centre droit dans le monde occidental à récolter plus de votes chez ces communautés que [chez] les personnes nées au pays, dit-il. C’est un reflet de notre approche pluraliste et d’intégration. Que ce soit la communauté juive, ou les autres, notre appui est diversifié. »

De l’avis du titulaire de la Chaire de recherche en études ethniques canadiennes de l’Université McGill, Morton Weinfeld, cet appui diversifié pourrait avoir un impact significatif dans des circonscriptions telles que Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount ou encore Mont-Royal, qui dispose d’une forte communauté juive et où le député libéral sortant Irwin Cotler, juif lui aussi, ne se représente pas. Les conservateurs ont fait fondre peu à peu la majorité de cet ex-ministre de la Justice, avocat de renommée internationale, si bien que l’anglophone Robert Libman dispose aujourd’hui de sérieuses chances de l’emporter dans ce fief libéral depuis 1940.

Les conservateurs courtisent les communautés culturelles à Montréal | Le Devoir.

Jason Kenney s’invite dans la circonscription de Maria Mourani: Targeting citizenship ceremonies to “shop for votes”

This takes “shopping for votes” too far. Having citizenship ceremonies for one particular community, religious or not, takes away the power and symbolism of new Canadians of different origins and faiths, coming together to join the “Canadian family.”

Undermines all the messaging on integration and the building of bridges between communities, one of the key objectives introduced by Kenney in 2009-10:

Le ministre de la Défense et du Multiculturalisme, Jason Kenney, poursuit sa conquête des appuis des communautés religieuses. Il s’est aventuré à Montréal dimanche, dans la circonscription de la députée Maria Mourani, Ahunstic-Cartierville, en tant qu’invité d’honneur de la cérémonie de citoyenneté de l’évêque catholique Ibrahim M. Ibrahim.

Contrairement aux cérémonies qui réunissent habituellement des dizaines de nouveaux citoyens canadiens devant un juge de la citoyenneté, l’événement avait été organisé exclusivement pour l’évêque par sa communauté, à la cathédrale Saint-Sauveur Melkite. C’est lors d’une messe que Mgr Ibrahim a prêté le serment de citoyenneté canadienne, devant Jason Kenney, qui a joué le rôle de juge de la citoyenneté. La paroisse était pleine à craquer et M. Kenney a été mis à l’honneur, sur un fauteuil au centre de l’allée principale.

Même si les conservateurs n’ont pas la cote à Montréal, le ministre Kenney réussit habilement à tisser et à conserver des liens avec des communautés religieuses de la métropole. La communauté arabe catholique de Montréal ne fait pas exception.

Dès son entrée dans la cathédrale, M. Kenney a salué chaleureusement l’évêque Ibrahim en arabe, puis a poursuivi la discussion en anglais. Il n’en était pas à sa première visite.

Interrogé par Le Devoir, l’évêque n’a pas caché sa proximité avec le ministre, qu’il connaît depuis 2005. « C’est un ami de la communauté. Il est proche des arabes », a-t-il lancé.

Jason Kenney a dit avoir bon espoir que la communauté de cette église, constituée en bonne partie de Québécois d’origine libanaise, appuiera son parti aux élections de l’automne. « Une communauté entière ne vote jamais de façon unanime, mais nous croyons que beaucoup de Canadiens d’origine libanaise ont des valeurs conservatrices. »

L’évêque connaît aussi la députée Maria Mourani, qui est d’origine libanaise comme lui. Il ne souhaite pas choisir de camp pour les prochaines élections. « Maria Mourani fait partie de notre communauté, mais nous ne sommes pas des politiciens. Nous sommes en faveur de tout le monde », a-t-il indiqué au Devoir.

Would be interesting to know whether CIC provided any advice on the wisdom of community-specific citizenship ceremonies in general, and this one in particular.

Jason Kenney s’invite dans la circonscription de Maria Mourani | Le Devoir.